Four decades of hospitality business graduates from Washington State University have crafted their own version of success in the hospitality industry.
Joe Fugere ’84
Joe Fugere’s family influenced his meteoric rise in the food industry, albeit indirectly. His accolades including founding an award-winning Neapolitan pizza company in Seattle and advocating for small businesses on a local, state, and national level.
Fugere was actually considering architecture when he enrolled at WSU and attended an School for Hospitality Business Management open house.
“I liked the idea of getting a business degree and a degree in hospitality business management at the same time,” says Fugere, who—after graduation—worked for Westin Hotels, Taco Time, and Starbucks.
Fugere credits his Italian great-grandparents with inspiring his creation of Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria in 2004, the first Northwest pizzeria to receive the prestigious certification of authenticity by the Naples, Italy-based Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. He now runs a mobile food truck and six restaurants—five stand-alone locations throughout western Washington and one inside a grocery store—and earned numerous awards. Highlights include the 2010 Washington Restaurant Association “Operator of the Year” and the Greater Seattle Business Association “Business of the Year,” the same year Fugere met with then-President Barack Obama for a Seattle-based roundtable on small businesses, and subsequently was invited to the White House for the signing of the Small Business Lending Act.
Fugere has also been recognized for his work advancing human rights and corporate philanthropy, including testifying to Congress in 2015 to support providing health insurance. He maintains strong ties to his alma mater, serving on the SHBM Advisory Board and participating as a featured speaker for Carson College’s Burtenshaw Lecture series.
“I have always enjoyed helping others grow personally and professionally,” he says.
Michael Wang ‘96
Like Jaeger, Michael Wang was also born into the hospitality industry. Over the years, he watched his parents open—and close—numerous Asian restaurants in the Seattle area and worked for them on and off before deciding it wasn’t a good fit for him.
“They had these aspirations that I would eventually take over and run one of the family restaurants,” says Wang, who eventually enrolled in WSU’s engineering program following in his older brother’s footsteps. It wasn’t long, however, before Wang realized that human interaction interested him more than math and science and that the hospitality industry could actually be a good fit under the right conditions.
Wang found his niche in corporate restaurant management, which provides the necessary framework that smaller, family-owned businesses like the ones his parents operated often lack. “I leaned toward the corporate side where I knew I would have support: IT, corporate lending, everything,” says Wang, who credits student internships at Red Robin and Olive Garden with providing real-world experience.
As a regional vice president for Shake Shack, Wang occasionally returns to WSU to recruit students. At the tail-end of a class similar to one he took while at WSU, the professor was discussing the same success metrics Wang discusses with his restaurant teams now.
Because of his internships and time at WSU, Wang says, “I felt ahead of the curve at an early age.”
Pauline Q. Garza ’16
Pauline Q. Garza recently celebrated the opening of Hop Thief Taphouse and Kitchen in College Place, where she serves as general manager. But, her first love was working in kitchens.
“I always found myself in the kitchen with my mom or dad or grandmas, who would teach me their ways,” says Garza, who remembers learning to make a Mexican one-pot stew called conchitas and tackling barbecue, much to the amusement—and admiration—of her elders.
Her passion for cooking was fueled by a family trip during high school to Las Vegas, where she did a daylong job shadow with chef de cuisine Diana Davey at Emeril’s Table 10 at the Palazzo.
Like Wang, Garza followed her older sibling to WSU, becoming the second in her family to graduate from college and the first SHBM graduate from WSU Tri-Cities. She spent her senior year in Italy earning the Tutto Toscana specialized culinary certificate as well as working at the prestigious James Beard Foundation in New York City.
Her experience working in both the front- and back-of-the-house reaffirms her belief that the hospitality industry is truly about service, says Garza, who serves on the Commission on Hispanic Affairs Discovery Committee at WSU Tri-Cities as well as Culinary Professional Advisory Committee for Columbia Basin College’s new Culinary Arts and Baking & Pastry Arts Programs in Pasco.
The hospitality industry can be very challenging, says Garza, who is nearing her first decade working in the industry.
“It’s not glamorous like you see on TV or on Instagram; it’s an industry designed to serve others,” she says. “You have to have that type of heart to see the beauty in it.”